Monday, September 13, 2010

José Saramago: The Elephant’s Journey

Steven G. Kellman reviews José Saramago's The Elephant’s Journey.
The distance between Lisbon and Vienna is 1,429 miles as the crow flies. As the elephant trudges, it is a more arduous expedition. How do you convey an Asian pachyderm from the Portuguese capital to the seat of the Habsburg empire? Very carefully, especially if the beast is a wedding present from King João III of Portugal to the Archduke Maximilian and his bride, Maria, daughter of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. In a brief prologue to The Elephant's Journey, José Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel Laureate who died last June, explains that he learned about this extraordinary transport when, visiting Salzburg, he encountered a set of carvings commemorating the event. He was inspired to write a whimsical novel about how, in 1551, a four-ton elephant named Solomon but renamed Suleiman was brought from Portugal to Spain and then by boat to Italy and up through the Alps to Austria.
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